How Music Education Can Build a Better America

When it comes to advocating the benefits of music education in the political arena, there is support from both sides of the aisle. There are some who believe that Bill Clinton’s appearance on the late night talk show hosted by Arsenio Hall was the turning point in the election prior to his first term in office. There’s a bi-partisan country and rock band comprised of members of the U.S. House of Representatives headed by Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI). Republican Mike Huckabee, former governor and Presidential candidate plays bass guitar on his FOX talk show and is a strong supporter of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) and of music education in general.

In this article and accompanying video, Huckabee explains how music education can build a better America. “The future economy is a creative economy,” said Huckabee. “We’re going to have a strong economy if we have a strong arts emphasis.” The complete video from the Center for American Progress features Kiff Gallagher of Music National Service Initiative/MusicianCorps, Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley, and Huckabee.

If you can endure one of the worst renditions of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” (remember it’s the benefits from and not the proficiency in music), this is a great speech. Huckabee is one of the most eloquent speakers on the power of the arts.

I particularly like Huckabee’s following points:

  • The arts have an inherent diplomatic quality
  • Making sure students are educated and not just informed
  • We never outgrow the arts
  • Employing “Weapons of Mass Instruction” in the quest for global competitiveness (catchy!)
  • Direct correlation between arts education and a strong economy 
  • What we force, we fund (mandate music ed. in state legislatures)
  • Purpose of school is not to perpetuate the school, it’s to empower the student

Link to video and article containing Huckabee’s speech and selected excerpts from the transcript.

For more info on this topic, see “The Business Case for Playing Music” at NAMM’s “WannaPlayMusic?” website.

6 thoughts on “How Music Education Can Build a Better America”

  1. That last Huckabee statement is key: “Purpose of school is not to perpetuate the school, it’s to empower the student.” SO MANY U.S. public school systems place 95% of their music ed. curriculum on building performing ensembles (band, chorus, orchestra) that service 10% or less of the student population. It has always been a self-perpetuating system. The reason I became a band director in the first place was so that I could stay involved with a marching band program as an adult. It’s totally “in-bred.” While there will always be a need for school performing ensembles, even those 10% that participate only have a small percentage of that 10% who even touch their instrument again after high school or their undergrad.

  2. Good point. There a Music Industry Studies curriculum here at Loyola Unviersity of New Orleans that’s doing well, and there are others around the country popping up. One reason for the success is that they’ve addressed a need in the marketplace.

    I was at a conference yesterday where there were a number of development/fund-raising professionals for non-profit groups. One speaker indicated that there’s a growing demand from the corporations that contribute to these organizations that they act more like corporations.

    As you mentioned, it’s about Marketing 101 – Identifying the needs of the customers (students) and evolving as those needs change.

  3. I appreciate some of TJ West’s comments, but I take huge issue with how he defines the limits of the music ensemble performance model, and how he defines whether that model is a success or not.

    I agree that it’s pathetic that band, choir, orchestra typically only serve about 10% of the student population. But I would argue, why not expand that beyond 10%? If 30% or more of H.S. students were in a music performance group, what then? I believe such an expanded model is possible. We can point to H.S. that achieve 20-30%+ participation, and they’re not magnet schools.

    My observation is that the 10% limitation occurs when a music teacher sees that he/she has enough students to make up key performance groups to round out the teaching assignment, and then sort of gives up on expanding the program. Then it’s a matter of coasting until retirement. These people are to be lauded for being there for the students they serve, but chastised that they don’t pursue a vision beyond the boundaries of their own job assignment and career. Or when administrators think that if they have one band, one orchestra, and one choir, then they’ve satisfied the requisites for a music program.

    A music performance ensemble model has tremendous value for the students. It makes them feel included in a group in a positive way in ways that almost no other traditional academic classes (English, math, science, social studies) can. It is a “good gang”. There are “good gangs” all around school, especially in sports and the performing arts. Without those groups, students will find their own gangs, and they may not be the gangs we like.

    Beyond the fact that there is value of empowerment to students in such a system, this system also has a better chance of surviving in these times, if its strengths are recognized. From a budget model, music performance ensembles are a bargain to a school district. An orchestra/band/choir of 50 could be a reasonable and typical size. But 50 students in an English class is a scandal. Many times it costs more to staff traditional academic classes than it does music peformance classes. This is the argument that John Benham, professional music advocate makes.

    Music performance ensembles are one of the few reasonable ways that a school can promote itself. If you see a good public performance of a high school music group, you’ll be thinking about that high school — “that might be a nice place for my kid to attend”, “That was a good music group. I wonder what their academics are like” — and it’s a hook for talking about that high school to other members of the community — “do you know I just saw the Kennedy H.S. choir perform last weekend?”

    It’s probably ridiculous to anticipate that 100% of H.S. students be in a school music group — some students will always have passions for things that aren’t music. But for all of the adults I run into who regret not learning music earlier in their lives, or for quitting earlier than H.S., I have to believe that 10% participation is aiming for mediocrity.

    And to define failure because maybe only 10% of 10% might continue to play their instrument after H.S. misses a huge point. The purpose of the band, choir, or orchestra was not necessarily about the music. It was about feeling included. There are few human beings who get along growing up without feeling a need to belong to a group.

  4. I did not realize to what extent Gov. Huckabee was such a strong supporter of the arts. As I am reading the post above, I am encouraged and motivated as a future music educator. I am taking a Education Technology Course for my teaching certification and am required to participate in a blog.

  5. I will definetly tell a friend. Would it be permissible for me to work on this blog for my project? Thanks.

    I am concerned, as a future music educator, about the future of music education in both public and private schools. I touch on some posts above that music education has to be attractive to potential students and parents.
    What is involved with “selling” your program to kids and parents alike?

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